Why does cloning scare people?

October 17, 2006 | By | 5 Replies More

I just got an unsolicited, automated phone call from an organization fighting against stem cell research. NoHumanCloning.org is dedicated to raising fears and resisting biological research that furthers naturalistic understanding of who we are and how to artificially repair our ailments.

The current battle is to prevent this type of research from being constitutionally legalized in Missouri, and consequently to get out conservative voters this November 7th in our 58%-ish “red” state.

Let’s ignore the issue of whether a blob of a dozen cells is a person or not. I just don’t understand the fear of cloning. In the movies, a human clone is identical to the original, down to the scars and all the experiences of growing up. Sometimes it is evil. It’s silly. These clones are more like the original than an identical twin shackled to our protagonist for life would ever be.

If a real-life human clone were to be gestated, reared, and educated, it would be considerably more different from the original than would an identical twin, simply because every aspect of its/his/her growth from conception onward would be different. Nuclear genes can only do so much. During gestation, the genes of the egg mother (mitochondia), the genes of the host mother, the diet of the host mother, the activities of the host mother, and the age of the host mother significantly determine how the blastocyst, embryo, and fetus develop. These factors affect size, symmetry, and root personality (and other traits, but these are easy to demonstrate).

Does a clone have a soul? To me, this is a null question. But, for those who believe in divine and eternal souls: Given a God who delivers souls to each of a set of twinned (or more) babies from the same egg, I’d bet that he’d give a soul to any gestated child, whether the egg nucleus is genetically from just-met haploids, or from a skin cell.

Sociologically speaking, why would anyone besides a raving narcissist want to do this expensive, complex, and unlikely procedure? In practice, the new child would simply exhibit a family resemblance to the original donor.

The current best hope for stem cell technology involving a cloned blastocyst is to grow replacement organs in vitro. Replacement pancreatic tissue for a diabetic, a lung lobe for a non-repentant smoker, bone marrow for leukemics, and so on.

It is Frankensteinian in concept, as are vaccines, organ transplants, and other technologies that were vocally fought in their early days, and now are accepted. Keep in mind that the phrase “as God intended” is always synonymous with “what we’re used to”.

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Category: Politics, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Science

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A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

Comments (5)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    A few years ago, I attended an ethics lecture at a local medical school. When the topic of cloning came up, there was nothing but anguish expressed by the panelists and audience (many of them were physicians and medical professionals). I heard comments like: "How could we tolerate such a thing?" and "It would be ghastly."

    I raised my hand to ask about identical twins, but I never got called on. I wanted to mention that identical twins were clones. Are THEY really so horrible. Do THEY confuse each other for themselves? When only one of them is hungry does the other try to eat?

    I see the ethical issue of cloning the same as I see the issue of trying to create any other type of designer baby. Yes, it is a problem of arrogance, as well as a problem of whether a healthy cloned baby can really be produced by artificial means. Once the deed is done, though–once you've got two people with the exact same genetic information, you've inevitably got two distinct individuals with two personalities, as any parent of twins will tell you.

    I wouldn't want to clone myself. I think it odd that anyone would, especially someone who wants a clone so that he or she could admire himself or herself. As if the environment doesn't dramatically sculpt the genetic raw material. The main reason I wouldn't clone myself (or anyone else): present cloning techniques would produce humans that are at high risk for physical defects.

    I agree with you that the word "clone" does seems overly-charged with emotion.

  2. Jason Rayl says:

    Cloning frightens certain people in two, perhaps at first glance diametrically opposed ways. (I write SF, thus I know such things, heh heh).

    First, it frightens people who draw the majority of their personal identity from outside themselves. They are not confident in any independent, individualized persona, but define who they are by their associations–democrat, republican, catholic, muslim, college graduate, midwesterner, mason, knight of Columbus, etc–and find the notion of "duplication" of themselves, whole or in part, terrifying, because instinctively they know there's not that much really that defines them.

    The other strand of fear comes from those who believe who you are is an innate quality that is utterly unique and fragile–like a snowflake pattern–and that cloning, while perhaps not leading to a second Them, implies that we have control over that innateness of Selfhood–that what you are "born with" (as if that's really the end of the matter) can be "tweaked" or altered at the most fundamental level through the technologies provided. Then how could such a person ever know what they were "intended to be"? They believe in destiny, and cloning, inasmuch as they grasp its implications, suggests destiny is not "set" and immaleable.

    Both these threads converge in a political stance that will isolate Human-as-somatic-embodiment from anything that might alter it so basically as to threaten identity.

    Neither mindset grasps what Identity actually is.

  3. grumpypilgrim says:

    The concept of cloning is, indeed, overly-charged with emotion, even to the point that people are also upset about the concept of cloned foods on grocery store shelves. Of course, fruits and vegetables have been routinely cloned for years — that's why Delicious Apples are all so uniformly delicious — but now the debate is raging about cloned meat. I just don't get it — someone will happily eat the meat of a cow, but then turn his nose up at the meat from a genetically-identical clone of that same cow, as if the meat of the clone is somehow grossly different from the meat of the original. I'm guessing it's just an extension of the hysteria that opponents of human cloning have been fostering, but it still astonishes me that people get so upset about it. Ironically, there is more known about the quality of meat from a cloned animal than there is about the quality of meat from a new individual, yet this obvious detail seems to escape notice by those opposed to it.

  4. hogiemo says:

    Dan, your post gives new meaning to the expression, "Go F- yourself!" Yeech!

  5. Catana says:

    The only sensible objection to human cloning is that we don't need one more way to add to an already overcrowded world. I'd say the same of all technologies that help people who ordinarily couldn't have children to procreate.

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